Make time for your mental health, says Fort Providence mom as online learning begins again

Karalyn Menicoche says learning from home can be tough for parents — they have to figure out how to burn off their children's energy, manage their time and look after their own mental health.

Karalyn Menicoche says it's important to find ways to connect with other parents

Karalyn Menicoche, centre, holds her two children. They are 10-month-old Lawson Sittichinli, left, and 5-year-old Lakal Sittichinli. (Photo submitted by Karalyn Menicoche)

A mother-of-two in Fort Providence says it's important for parents to support each other as school-aged children return to learning from home.

Schools in many communities across the N.W.T. took their classes online this week as cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 rise. 

At Deh Gáh school in Fort Providence, online learning will continue until at least Jan. 21. 

With school already delayed by a week, five-year-old Lakal Sittichinlii is starting to miss his classmates and teachers, according to his mother Karalyn Menicoche. 

"He's asking, you know, 'Is it school time?' every once in a while," Menicoche said in an interview with Trailbreaker host Loren McGinnis. 

"I'll be like, 'No, my boy — we're in a slight lockdown here in the community because a lot of people are getting sick with COVID.'" 

Menicoche said learning from home can be tough for parents — they have to figure out how to burn off their children's energy, manage their time and look after their own mental health.

She's thankful she is at home right now with Lakal and her 10-month-old, Lawson Sittichinli, instead of working.

"I find myself just having to breathe and calm down, but also reaching out to my other friends that are mothers. So just gaining that support, too, is helpful," she said.

A screenshot of the announcement Deh Gáh School in Fort Providence made Friday as it prepared to close until Jan. 21. (Source: Deh Gáh School (Facebook))

In the absence of face-to-face interactions, Menicoche said it's important to find a support system in different ways — through phone calls or online.

"That's the one thing I was worried about ... how are people handling their mental health? Being Dene, being traditional, we're so used to gathering and talking to each other and shaking hands — how is everybody dealing with that?" she said.

"I find that talking about it really helps."

Keeping busy, but missing the classroom

Deh Gáh School announced its switch to remote learning on its website and in a Facebook post Friday afternoon.

It stated teachers at the school would be in touch with students and families to arrange for students to learn from home, and would provide learning packages.

Karalyn Menicoche says parents in Fort Providence need to take care of themselves and their mental health as the elementary school pivots to online learning. Menicoche is at home with her 10-month-old, Lawson Sittichinli, bottom right, and her 5-year-old who is in Kindergarten, Lakal Sittichinli, top. (Photo submitted by Karalyn Menicoche)

Menicoche said the school sent some reading modules for Lakal to tackle, which she's glad to have.

"That's been helping, just coping with him not having to return to school."

A brush with COVID

Menicoche's household was already exposed to COVID-19 at the beginning of December when her partner came home from shift work with what he thought was a cold.

Acting on her instincts, Menicoche didn't let Lakal go to school, and soon enough her partner's COVID-19 test came back positive.

He was able to isolate in Hay River instead of Fort Providence, which helped ease the stress of his situation.

Menicoche said it was "a bit scary," especially given how small Fort Providence is. She only told a few people so she didn't create panic.

Her words of advice for communities that are coping with COVID-19 is simple: Be kind, do your part, and stay safe around each other.

Online for at least two weeks

Deh Gáh School was one of numerous schools in the N.W.T. to announce it would move to online learning for the first two weeks of school.

That came after Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola said there was community spread of Omicron in Aklavik, Behchokǫ̀, Dettah, Fort Providence, Hay River, Ndilǫ, Whatì and Yellowknife.

All schools in those communities moved to online learning at Kandola's recommendation, joining Colville Lake School, which had proactively moved classes online for the first week of school as residents returned from the holidays. 

All Tłı̨chǫ schools also went to remote learning, as did Ehtseo Ayha School in Délı̨nę. The Beaufort Delta Divisional Education Council said its schools would move online from Jan. 10 to 14.

That council said in a Facebook post the return to classrooms after Jan. 14 is tentative for most of its schools.

Written by April Hudson with files from Loren McGinnis and Alyssa Mosher